Why Is Sugar Added to Foods?
It’s especially appropriate to highlight added sugars since this week is National School Lunch Week. With soaring rates of obesity among children and teens, many schools are aiming for lower levels of added sugar in the foods they serve to students for lunch. Schools have also swapped out standard chocolate milk (with loads of added sugar), for 1% low fat milk or plain skim milk. It’s no surprise that sugar adds sweetness to foods. Food manufacturers also add sugar to foods for other “functional reasons.”
1- Sugar may further enhance other ingredients in foods, or make certain nutrient-dense foods more palatable.
2- Adding sugar to foods and then heating the sugar (caramelization) achieves a desirable consistency, texture and taste to sauces, candies, breads, jams and even dessert wine and also offers additional recipe options to baked goods, chocolates, coffee and even meats.
3- Sugar provides bulk to foods and this affects how the food feels in your mouth. Sugar also reacts with certain food elements and helps to form specific texture in foods like ice cream, candies, jellies and preserves.
4- Sugar is needed as an ingredient in certain foods that are made through fermentation. Some of these foods are yogurt, sauerkraut, vinegars, sour cream, beer, cheese, soy sauce and certain breads.
The challenge for many of us is trying to avoid added sugars which seem to be in almost every processed food. An easier approach is to limit how many processed foods you and your family eat in a day, and then spend a bit of time in the supermarket trying to find versions of these foods with the lowest levels of added sugars. The foods you need to limit include many baked goods, cereals and processed grain-based side dishes, cereals, nutrition bars, yogurts, frozen confections. Why not use National School Lunch Week to inspire some family trips to the supermarket? Let your kids taste test some new fruits and vegetables. Read the food labels of their favorite snacks and treats and let them see just how much added sugar there is per serving.
A good goal is to limit added sugar to 6 grams or less per serving of food. You can use cut up fruits, small amounts of fresh squeezed juice, and pureed fruits in lieu of sugar when you cook or bake. A healthy swap out, when making brownies, is to substitute pureed prunes for the oil you typically use in your brownie recipe. Pureed prunes will actually make the chocolate taste even more decadent!! You can actually grill many fruits (onions too) and their natural sugars will caramelize. Peach halves, watermelon, pineapple and papaya are perfect foods for the barbecue.